0 thoughts on “Human Evolution

  1. NB: I am not a paleoanthropologist, so I’m just speculating here.

    Nathan, the skin color doesn’t bother me too much. Chimpanzees, after all, have fair skin, and no one doubts that they are African. AFAICT, the very dark skin of sub-Saharan Africans is not a basal trait, but is just as derived as blue eyes or epicanthic folds or loss of facial hair in males. And while the actors portraying Homo ergaster appear to be Europeans, the pigmentation that the makeup artists have given them is not too far from the modern San of southern Africa.

    I guess what bothers me is that the behavioral, ethological, and dare I say sociological traits attributed to H. ergaster appear to be pure speculation. Is there any foundation for the any of it? If there is, the makers of the series aren’t telling.

  2. Chimpanzees spend their lives in deep shade. The San migrated to the Kalahari from somewhere else. You need a good reason to show an African plains Homo with light skin.

    The behavior actually seems improbably modern. Clothes? Trading? Speech?

  3. The behavior actually seems improbably modern. Clothes? Trading? Speech?

    Actually, a good deal of the behavior is close to things observed in Pan. Bonobos have friends, and at least one incident is on record when the whole troop intervened when a young male attacked a mother with child. This was a male that was part of the troop, not an outsider. (I don’t have a link off-hand, maybe somebody else does?) Both chimpanzees and bonobos have been observed doing something quite similar to trading food for sex (see some of GL’s earlier posts). Both chimpanzees and bonobos create alliances for social advantage (although there are striking differences between the types of alliances).

    As for clothing, it may be unlikely, but some of the tool using behavior recently observed in chimpanzees (see U-Tube posts by GL and Afarensis) suggests that if clothing would serve a purpose it would be invented, created, and used.

    Language is a hotly debated subject. Best evidence is that the modifications involved in modern human speech predated the split between Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal. (I’m referring to the lowering of the larynx.) Subsequent evolution continued this trait in Anatomically modern humans, while reversing it in Neanderthals. The lower larynx would have allowed better vocalization, specifically easily distinguished pronunciation of the vowel sounds “oo” and “ee”. This probably (IMO) came after the beginning of language use of some sort, although modern syntax and lexical transformation (e.g. inflexion, case endings, noun-adjective agreement) probably came much later.

    Even bonobos can comprehend a few hundred words, although they require training from infancy, and cannot achieve conscious control of their vocal tracts. Thus, we can’t rule out (in H. ergaster/erectus) the use of simple sentences (of the sort found in most pigins) or even the sort of language feral humans (e.g. Genie) can learn.

  4. Considering that H. sapiens lost the notion of clothing on the way through the Amazon and failed to re-invent it even at snowy Tierra del Fuego, I have very strong doubts about clothing. I’d accept mudpaint, a la Quest for Fire. H. ergaster would have been much more concerned about parasites than about cold.

    Good catch, José.

  5. I think this is the BBC version of “Walking with Cavemen” presented by Robert (Lord) Winston, subsequently shown on The Discovery Channel.

    Here’s what’s right with it – it irritated AiG:


    Pretty much its only redeeming feature IMO.

    Particularly bad for me is the lack of discussion of evidence, which means that everything seems to be speculation, if aren’t going to be doing any further reading. This plays into the hands of the anti-science crowd as some things presented here will be questioned as new ideas, new evidence and new techniques come along – at this point they jump up and say that the experts keep changing their story, and are just making stuff up.

    Also, the impression that new things suddenly appear – no gradual change. Suddenly, a group of animals that are tied together by family and friendship, with no mention of how this relates to family and group bonding in many species we can observe today, about how there is a continuum of behaviour, and we can observe this in our ape relatives.

  6. The whole thing seems awfully speculative to me. I’m not so much bothered by the apparently complex speech(possible, since Neandertals seem to have had all the equipment for it,and they must have gotten it from somewhere), as “buck-naked” H.ergaster/erectus running around a desert, for heaven’s sake, and who seem to be awfully pale,for that sort of climate.
    Anne G

  7. The thing that was most annoying to me about the video was all the cartoony cave man behavior.
    I kept expecting one of them to say â??ooga boogaâ?. And what kind of an idiot would open an egg by squeezing it, thereby wasting most of it and creating a huge mess. He was trying to impress a girl, though. Maybe ergaster considered egg squeezing bad boy cool.

  8. It was the girl that popped open the egg, albeit in a pretty wasteful manner.

    Otherwise, WWC is one of the better documentaries in the genre, but it should at lest provide an indication of what is fact, what is conjecture and what is totally fictitious.

    Such things as the presumed monogamy are conjecture, based on an assumption that ergaster had little sexual dimorphism. It now appears that assumption may have been in error. At least some smaller adults have shown up, one pelvis is definitely female.

    Clearly, the whole romantic scene is fiction, as is the fight, but it’s reasonable to assume that such things happened.

    As far as clothing, language, fire, etc. All this is conjecture, but if you’re going to use actors to recreate them, you either have to adopt one conjecture or another in each case. They can’t be both clothed and naked at the same time (although the old man comes close in this scene — he’s returning from a kill with the skin of his pray draped around his neck).

    The reconstructions are about as good as you can make them, given the differences in cranial anatomy between modern humans and ergaster.

    Nobody has mentioned the caked-on dirt. Most primates groom each other, so that is another possibly gratuitous assumption on the filmmaker’s part.

    In many ways, I didn’t appreciate The Discovery Channel’s rewrite of the BBC’s script, but they did provide a few glimpses of actual fossils and other bits of evidence in between scenes. BBC America also produced a version with the original script, but minus Lord Winston’s anachronistic appearances.

    Jacques Malaterre directed a French-Canadian-German (and a few other things) documentary called Homo sapiens that was aired on the Discovery Channel (US) as The Rise of Man. I got a copy of the Canadian version with (I think) the original script, and it makes a real clunker at one point. It shows an erectine woman giving birth to what we are given to understand is the first Homo sapiens. Anyone who follows evolution would know that it just doesn’t happen that way. I don’t know how their scientific advisor (Yves Coppens) ever let that one through. It wasn’t in the Discovery Channel version.

  9. The egg was hers already. Just before the clip, she collected it from a nest, which is why she’s up a tree at the start of the video.

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